Tony Logue’s musical songcraft shines through Jericho
Writing album and show reviews is something I truly enjoy, but rarely have time for these days. Which is unfortunate because music is something deeply important to me and a lot of people where I’m from. When the opportunity presented itself to review the new album “Jericho” from Benton, KY’s Tony Logue, there was no chance I was going to say no, and for a couple of reasons. Of course, I’d heard talk from folks in the music community that this was going to be a beast of an album, so the chance to get to hear it a little early was a blessing. As a fan of his, the fact Tony reached out to me personally and asked me to review it was also super humbling. But the main reason I wanted to try and give this album a halfway decent review is because Tony is a perfect example of what makes the Kentucky music scene so incredible…because there truly is a strong bond shared between those in it. It’s as much like a family as any other scene in the country.
I’d been a fan of Tony since I first heard his appearance on Red Barn Radio in early 2019. Songs like “Cut Riley’s Daughter” and “The Girl from Deadhorse Hollow” instantly made me think of another western Kentucky native and one of my favorite artists growing up: Chris Knight. Turns out, Chris is unsurprisingly one of Tony’s biggest influences: “Not many that are a bigger influence on me than Chris Knight. I’ve studied his stuff like scripture. Just trying to learn from it and see what good songs are made of.”
In the summer of 2019, just up the road from my hometown in Harlan County, we had a strike by the employees of Blackjewel Mining who were fighting to get backpay rightfully owed to them yet being withheld by the company. We got the idea to do two small benefit shows in helping to raise a little money to help folks along. When we put the idea out there, I had a lot of folks Id grown to know and consider friends in the Kentucky music scene reach out and offer to play for free in order to help. But I also had one that Id never even met before; one who lived clear across the state, reach out and ask if he could be on the bill. That was Tony.
For no other reason than to help fellow Kentuckians that he didn’t even know, he graciously offered his time and made the long haul to Pineville to play. The crowd wasn’t huge, we didn’t end up raising a massive amount of money…but that was a gesture that I never forgot. It’s things like that simple act that makes this music community next level. Tony understands that as well as anyone and never fails to go above and beyond when it comes to using his music to heal and help.
His career has been steadily building momentum over the past several years. The same year as the Music for Miners show, Tony released a live album of his Red Barn Show. He had released his debut album the year before in 2018 called “Serpents and Saviors”. The foundation of Tony’s songwriting is on display in both albums, and both are amazing, in their own right. But “Jericho” takes it to a whole other level. Not just because it sounds fuller than “Serpents and Saviors”, which was largely acoustic, save for an accompanying electric guitar or mandolin here or there. While that’s true, the hard work on every aspect of his craft shines through on every track of the new album. Song structure, instrumentation, production, lyrics…everything is taken up a notch. “Jericho” is a massive leap forward in every aspect, so much so that it’s sure to be one of the best albums of 2022.
For the engineering and mixing of the album, Tony reached out to Sean Sullivan to help transform the tracks into what you hear on the record. He recalls “I knew who Sean was through the Sturgill and Childers records. He worked with Dave Ferguson on all that stuff and did the mixing and engineering on those albums. Cole Chaney introduced Sean to me (as he worked on Cole’s record as well.)..I was on the road with Cole in Indiana one night and we were talking it over. He pretty much told me to quit wasting time and get moving…That these songs were to good not to be out in the world.”
The album was tracked at the Tractor Shed, which is owned by Mark Howard and is located on Grandpa Jones old farm. “It’s an old tractor shed turned into a studio. I kinda knew who Mark was as he played guitar on Sturgill’s Cutting Grass stuff. He played some Mandolin on my record as well. Great guy, Great player.” Cutting the album, Tony took what some would think is an unconventional approach and used his own band. It turned out, his thought process was spot on: “I took my band down with me (Derrick Rucker on guitar, Jason Munday on drums, Kyle Robertson on bass.) Not a common thing to do but I believe in my guys.” He continued “They’re incredible. Sean brought in a couple others to help out. Russ Pahl played the steel guitar. He’s one of the best on the planet. Mike Rojas played all the keys. Just Nashville A list players. And of course, Sean brought in Miles (Miller of Sturgill Simpson’s band) and Tammy (Rogers from the Steeldrivers) for backing vocals on some tracks. I’m a huge fan of both, so it was a dream… Matt Combs played some mandolin and fiddle as well. Just an all-star cast.”
The album kicks off with a bang with “Silas”, a track that Kentucky song writing legend Chris Knight would surely tip a cap to. Keeping true to one of his idols and in true Western Kentucky style, Tony starts the body count early. He paints a simple scene of love and murder with imagery pulled straight from the dirt of his home “Down where the cottonmouths grow/Where the sun don’t ever show/Where the muddy Clarks River rolls/Silas, boy, you better lay low”. The track hits hard from start to finish and is a killer way to start the album.
The second track, “Welder” is a haunting, true-life narrative of a man doing anything he can to salvage his marriage and his life, even if it means going to the outskirts of the law to do it. It showcases the struggles of an everyday couple in rural America doing what they can to survive, with the man knowing that the promise he made to his wife to provide her happiness is slipping away, so he’s prepared to risk everything to honor it. In the end, just like in life often times, we never find out if the risk was worth the reward. Tony lets the song end in a perfect way, giving the listener the option to finish the story themselves.
The third track is the records first single, “Calloway County”. It opens with a beautiful mandolin segment. The instrumentation in this song is phenomenal, with the fiddle and mandolin accompaniment giving the song’s story a perfect sonic backdrop. The song details the story of a young man doing his best to escape his rural hometown and coming to blows with his over father before leaving home. Throughout the song, the narrator vows to live a different life than his father, who had spent most of his life in prison. Then it becomes clearer that he’s not just trying to leave his hometown, but his last name too. “Calloway County, oh turn me loose, oh set me free/Rip up the roots of my raisin’ and chop down this family tree”. The songs last verse has the main character standing resolute to becoming his own man, vowing “There’s no way in hell that Ill ever be the same kinda man that he was”. The track features backing vocals from two powerhouses in fellow Kentucky native Miles Miller as well as Tammy Rogers from The Steeldrivers. It’s definitely one of the albums best.
Track four (“Baptized”) starts off with some unexpected fuzz and distortion, followed by some organ and slide guitar coming in slow and hard. The song is a shrine to first true love, one that consumes a boy to ashes only to have a man come out of them reborn: “On the banks of the Cumberland River/Like a moth drawn down to a flame/On the banks of the Cumberland River/I was baptized in her name”. The fact that the songs background is set on my home river makes me even more drawn to it. The guitar work in the song is flat out amazing, with a jaw-dropping, fuzz-laden solo absolutely shredding just after the bridge. I’m talking a solo so good, I literally rewound it four or five times immediately after hearing it. This is another one of the albums strongest tracks, and the soundscape is unlike any of the previous three tracks so far, giving the album a full and diverse feel.
“Life’s Blood” is a track that puts on display on of the things Kentuckians keep closest to their hearts: the land they’re raised on. There are very few people in rural Kentucky who don’t have unbreakable ties to their family land, and this song puts that on display by weaving a story about the creation of Kentucky and Barkley Lake in with one family’s devotion to their land. In the late 30s and early 40s, the TVA forced thousands out of their homes, sometimes by any means necessary. The song does a great job at teaching the listener about the cost of progress, and the song’s story is told through the eyes of one family who is determined to do anything possible to save their land. “Mommy stood their steady/Said ‘Daddy, when we gonna leave?’/He just shook his hand, slammed the door, said ‘We won’t bargain with thieves….we ain’t gonna back down.’” In the end, we know how the story ends, but the song does an excellent job showcasing the steep price of progress and how poor folks in rural America have been sacrificed like pawns on a chessboard to obtain it at any cost. Tony had this to say about the track: “It’s about the TVA taking some land from some folks here in west Kentucky. The spoken audio is from a documentary that’s being filmed called Between the Rivers. No one could tell me the guy’s name. Only that he passed away years ago after moving to Florida. Not sure if he was a TVA employee or government official or what. But he felt strongly that those people were done wrong.”
Track six is a standout too. “Color Blind” is a tale about the perils of being an inter-racial couple in a backwards small town full of ignorant folks with a twisted view of morality. The author does a fantastic job at putting the power of love and its ability to conquer all on full display. It starts similarly to “Baptized”, with the low hum of an organ and a fuzzy guitar, providing an ethereal soundscape that hangs over the song like a heavy fog. The production of the album is on full display in this song, and the quality of it gives the song the wings it deserves. It does it all without sounding flowery or over-produced. The track is another with a really strong bridge section…“There ain’t nothin’ they can do/To keep me from you”.
“Losin’ Kind” starts with a super catchy, rollicking country-rock riff that reincarnates itself throughout the song. The subtle use of the organ and piano in the background is another great example of how Tony has created a full sound throughout each song on the album. The song goes through the struggles of someone who came up hard and who reconciles with the fact that regardless of what they do, those hard times are here to stay. It’s only fitting that the landscape of the song has the author from eastern Kentucky, where we know better than anyone just how much harder life can be when you’re born behind the eight ball. “In the land of milk and honey, all I reap is rust/Grandmaw said that milk and honey, son, aint meant for folks like us”.
A quick hitting, southern rock riff starts off “Road to Richmond”. This song puts Tony’s songwriting prowess on full display. I’ve always been a huge fan of songs that draw inspiration from other songs and rewrite them from a different characters point of view. Logue does that perfectly in this song, taking a nod from his songwriting idol in Chris Knight’s “Carla Came Home” and rewriting the song from the perspective of the father of Carla instead of her younger brother. It’s top shelf-level songwriting that not only adapts the new version perfectly in line with the story of the original, but also takes other songwriting cues from Knight’s catalog (like how the bodies are hid in “Down the River”) and incorporates them seamlessly: “I took him to the river/Down where I run my jugs/Wrapped up in a carpet/He filled up the hole I dug”. It’s probably the most innovative song on the album and is a helluva hat-tip to one of Tony’s biggest influences. When asked about the foundation for the track, Tony said: “I just thought it was a neat idea to continue the Carla story. Or tell Carla’s dads perspective anyway. I tried to write it where it would stand on its own to feet as a separate song but if you know Chris’ music, I believe you’ll catch it. Just a nod to one of my heroes.”
Its extremely fitting that “Blood River Baptist Church” starts off with the soft touch of a Hammond B3. The song details a person’s arrival at faith and grace, and the steps they go through in life to reach them, only to culminate in a sorrowful ending. Whether it was finding faith in a higher power in their youth, the discovery of the power of a lover’s touch in young adulthood, or the tragic and unexpected turn it takes at the end: the song showcases the importance of place in a person’s life. The familiar imagery of the same church replaying itself through different moments of bliss and sorrow in the narrator’s life is a perfect encapsulation of just how valuable place is to the songwriter. It’s powerful and moving, joyous and heart-wrenching all in a single song. It’s another prime example of Logue taking his songwriting to the next level, and a track that will leave a sizeable impression on the listener.
“Dead Flowers” is a stripped down, mournful track worthy of the poet of the famous track by the same name. Although not linked lyrically, Tony’s version does an amazing job of capturing the sorrow that Townes was known for. It displays the devastation that false hope brings through the story of a poverty-stricken family whose patriarch has succumbed to addiction, followed by death. “Sometimes your faith and hope/Are like dead flowers in a glass”. The song is even more painful than another one it reminds me of, Chris Knight’s “Send a Boat”. It’s a tough listen given the subject matter, and despite being just an acoustic guitar and fiddle, is one of the hardest hitting tracks on the record.
The mood does a quick 180 with “Sins Of My Father“, at least instrumentally. Lyrically, its still a heavy, heavy song. Tony does an incredible job of getting the message of the song across in full, despite having mid-tempo instrumentation paired with a heavy subject like recognizing your father’s faults are way closer to home than you’d like. It takes place in what seems to be an AA meeting, where the attendee is getting to the core causes of his issues. Similar to “Calloway County”, it shows the songwriter recognizing that the battle of separating yourself from paternal, inherited flaws is a hard fought one. “This old liquor ain’t thicker than blood/And the sins of my father make me every bit the man that he was”.
Tony again weaves the significance of place throughout “Pilot Oak”. Like a lot of the album, it finds a way to interlace the darker subject matter of the human experience into a beautifully crafted track. Guitar and fiddle create a somber soundscape that details the loss of a child to a couple and the incredible impact it has on their love. It shows how one single event can reshape the future in ways you never could have foreseen, and how the uncertainty and emptiness that follows it can impact you the rest of your life. Tony does an incredible job lyrically, and the song does almost too good of a job of transplanting the listener into the song. Like many of his other songs, the familiarity of location is woven into the emotion of the song itself. “Oh, Pilot Oak/Feels like we’re sinking like a stone/Oh, Pilot Oak/Feels less and less like home”. In this song, the narrator realizes this, and the album ends on a semi-hopeful note, vowing to take his wife away so that the desperation they’ve connected with their home can finally disappear. It’s an exceptional track, simple and resolute, and is a perfect way to send the album out.
Tony Logue has created an album that will go down as an all-time listen for a lot of folks, myself included. I mean this with absolutely no disrespect, but it shocked me how good this album was. I told Cole Chaney the other night at the Burl…”I knew that album was gonna be good…I had no clue it was gonna be THAT good”. It kinda came outta nowhere for me. And man alive, albums like this are the best. When they completely drop outta the sky and just floor you with how good they are.
“Jericho” drops on January 7th, and if the recent ravings about the “Calloway County” single from some of the biggest social media outlets covering country/Americana music are any indication, Tony has a busy 2022 on his plate. We expect big things for Tony Logue and named him one of Kentucky Country Music’s Artists to Watch in 2022.
Be sure to check out Tony Logue online at tonyloguemusic.com.
Guest contributor, Jon Grace, currently serves as Tourism Director with the Bell County Tourism in Kentucky. Jon helps organize the Middlesboro Levitt AMP concert series, providing musical entertainment across multiple genres. In his free time, he enjoys attending concerts with his wife, as well as entertain others with his Audio Outlaws broadcast every Monday from 8-10pm on WRIL. The broadcast features outlaw and classic country, Americana, bluegrass, southern rock and and blues. Jon has contributed several stories to Kentucky Country Music to help highlight the best festivals, concerts, albums, and adventures from here in Kentucky.